Fort Myers, Fla. – Jessica Kosten’s family huddled together at home as roofs creaked, trees fell and water filled 400 miles of canals.
Then everything went dark.
“We lost power,” Ms. Goston said. “My 3-year-old son is terrified.”
As Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday, it turned a suburban coastline known for tiki bars, golf course retreat communities and stone crab fishing havens into a strand of destruction and chaos.
Without power, the Gaston family waited together until Wednesday night, by the light of a candle in their home in Cape Coral, a fast-growing city of 205,000 near Fort Myers. Hannah, 12, felt fine but worried about her family getting hurt. Jacob, 10 and living through his first real hurricane, stood in a corner and closed his eyes.
“I was so shocked,” Jacob said. “I want this to be over. I want to be in school.”
Cities along Florida’s southwest coast, with storm surge and 150 mph winds from Ian, can feel like sleepy cousins to Miami’s upscale multicultural pulse. The region is older, whiter and more conservative than Florida’s dense Atlantic coast. Places like Cape Coral have long attracted Midwesterners seeking the affordable prices of the Florida coast.
But on Wednesday, most of it crumbled. There have been reports of roofs being torn off houses in Cape Coral. In an affluent coastal area of Naples, one resident said his home had three feet of water.
In Everglades City, a mecca for stone crab fishing, some residents who haven’t finished rebuilding after Hurricane Irma’s devastation in 2017 have lost everything again, said Holly Dudley, whose family runs a crabbing business. Mrs Dudley said the streets were flooded, cars were floating and fishermen were worried if their boats had survived.
“I know God has a plan,” Ms. Dudley said. “We’re thick-skinned, and he makes us resilient. But at some point, when does it end?”
In Cape Coral, Hurricane Ian’s widespread fury reminded longtime residents of Hurricane Donna, which hit the city in 1960 when it was a developer’s dream on a map marketed as a waterfront wonderland with hundreds of miles of canals carved into the land. .
said Gloria Razo Tate, a city councilwoman whose family arrived in 1960 in the middle of Hurricane Donna.
On Wednesday, he left his home along the banks of the nearby Caloosahatchee River, hoping to find safety inland at his sister’s house in a different suburb of Cape Coral. Ms Raso Tate said she was worried her house might not survive the storm.
“We’re in the middle of it,” he said.
The hurricane presented an ominous test of whether the fast-growing city could handle one of the worst storms to hit the coast in decades.
“We’re full of people,” Ms Raso Tate said. “That is the problem now. Most of our residents are new and have never had to go through a hurricane. There was a bit of a panic.”
As of late Wednesday, city officials said there were no reports of injuries or deaths in Cape Coral, but the storm’s toll was still unclear. Police officers, firefighters and medics did not respond to 911 calls Wednesday until the wind subsided.
Despite mandatory evacuation orders for much of the city issued Tuesday, some city officials said they believed about half of the city’s 205,000 residents may have decided to stay in their homes. The storm was expected to make landfall first to the north, in Tampa.
The 40,000-person shelters were only about one-tenth full, and some residents who stayed at home called to ask about shelters only after it became too dangerous to take to the roads, city officials said.
“I think a lot of people are lurking,” said Melissa Mickey, spokeswoman for Cape Coral. “That’s a concern.”
As the storm surge was forecast to dump 12 feet or more on nearby Fort Myers, residents and city officials in Cape Coral burned white hats in front yards and nervously watched the size of the Caloosahatchee River and its 400 miles of freshwater and saltwater canals. city.
City officials said the canals threaded through Cape Coral were dug without permits and without consideration for the environment, but they’re crossing their fingers that the web of waterways commonly used for boating and fishing could act as shock absorbers for storm surge. And help drain some of the rain and floods.
Officials in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral, opened lower dams to drain waterways ahead of the storm.
Real estate values in the Fort Myers area, where most residents are white, peaked and then crashed in the 2008 recession, but the area has rebounded in recent years.
The region’s Latino residents are growing in numbers, and major new corporate arrivals such as Hertz and medical device manufacturers have revitalized the still-running economy through tourism and housing.
On the Cape Coral City Council, Ms. “When I was growing up, it was all retirees,” says Koston. “The population has quadrupled since I was born. It’s a lot of families, middle and working class.
In Port Charlotte, about 30 miles to the north, Jeannie Krogh, 50, decided to ride out the storm at her home through a canal, even though it was a decision she made when Hurricane Ian was expected to hit the Tampa Bay area. Some of her neighbors changed their minds and fled to safety as the storm hit them earlier Wednesday.
“In the last hour we’ve seen two of them decide to leave. We might be one of the few left,” Ms Croke said. “We tied up the boat and did everything we could. Pray for us.”
Jennifer Reid Reported from Fort Myers, Fla. Charles Ballaro Lehigh Acres, Fla., and Jack Healy From Phoenix. Robert Keploff contributed reporting from New York.
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